Monday 9 April 2012

A Million Years of On Kawara @ Baltic, Newcastle

APRIL 9, 2012 AD

It is an obvious fact, that fish and chips do not come any better than at North Shields: complete a queue,  tea, buttered bread, beautifully fluffy fish and an extensive amount of grease that sticks to the roof of your mouth for the rest of the day. 

Still rubbing onto that grease we went to Baltic gallery in Newcastle - my favorite exhibition space. Ever.
On the first floor we found On Kawara.

On Kawara's One Million Years is an epic work of conceptual art. It speaks simply and directly about a subject that is relevant to us all: the passage and marking of time. The monumental 20-volume work is comprised of Past, a typewritten record of the date of every year from 998,031 BC to 1969 AD and Future, which accounts for 1996 AD to 1,001,995 AD. Past is dedicated to ‘all those who have lived and died’ and Future is ‘for the last one’.

A couple sits in the middle of a large white room on a platform. It looks like a conference. The couple are taking turns to read the dates one by one. Year after year. The sound of their voices is strangely comforting. It feels like listening to the shipping forecast and gale warnings on the BBC. A familiar audio experience that makes no sense. Comforting nevertheless. Counting time. We sit and listen. My mother-in-law drifts off to sleep. 

On Kawara is obsessed with marking the passage of time. His Today paintings series have been ongoing since 1966. Simple monochromatic paintings of the date and place where they were painted come in a set with a boxed newspaper from that day and place. Repetitive. Minimalist. A visual equivalent of reading out the dates in a large white room.

The white room in Baltic also contains one of his actual printed book. 

One Million Years

On Kawara (Japanese, born 1933)

1999. Artist's book in two volumes, Each: 5 15/16 x 4 5/16 x 1 3/4" (15.1 x 10.9 x 4.4 cm). Publisher: Editions Micheline Szwajcer and Michèle Didier, Brussels. Printer: Jongbloed, Heerenveen, The Netherlands. Edition: 570. Monroe Wheeler Fund. © 2012 On Kawara

Heavy and substantial. If closed, it looks like a bible, dictionary, encyclopedia, War and Peace or another work of substantial authority. The book is behind the glass - no touching. The open pages contain lines and columns of numbers. Some absurd statistics. Nonetheless, I feel an urge to find the year of my birth. I cannot. The book is behind the glass - no touching.

Can you count to a hundred? A thousand? - I remember asking my friend at the start of the primary school. Can you count to a million?


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